There was a little more on the line than usual last weekend for the Prince Rupert Sea Wolves midget reps, and despite winning 4-1 on Saturday night, two losses to the Vanderhoof Bears gave them a series loss.
Battling the Bears in the first game of round one of the Skeena Valley zones, the Sea Wolves found themselves deadlocked in the best-of-three series, tied 3-3 after two frames with the Bears, who play remarkably similar hockey to the Rupertites.
The Saturday morning showdown saw the home side battle back from three deficits, down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before the second intermission and it seemed like the pesky Sea Wolves couldn’t be swatted away.
With neither team gaining an advantage over the other, the match looked like it would be coming down to the wire as Prince Rupert’s Caleb Perrie and the Bears’ Dixon Loewen were putting on a clinic with stellar goaltending between the pipes for their respective teams – one-timer after one-timer was turned aside by both masked men as the second frame came to a close.
Then, the third period hit and all bets were off.
The solid defensive play that both teams employed through the first two stanzas were thrown out the window in the wild, offensive shootout blitz that the third period became for both sides.
“Everything pretty much collapsed,” said Austin Weir, who led Rupert’s charge with two pretty goals, deking out Loewen forehand-backhand on each one.
It only took 10 seconds for the fireworks to start in that third period.
Rupert sniper Cole Atchison streaked down the left wing after the Sea Wolves won the opening face-off and wristed a laser-beam high, blocker-side on Loewen for the 4-3 advantage and Rupert’s first lead of the game.
Three minutes later, Keiden Archer put the Sea Wolves up two goals after he found a tiny hole in a crouching Loewen’s short-side coverage for the 5-3 lead.
It seemed like the Rupert squad was on their way to the 1-0 series lead, but a furious Vanderhoof attack came shortly thereafter.
Bears’ alternate captain Eric Silver snapped a shot past Perrie for his second of the game to cut the Wolves’ lead to 5-4.
Then, Vanderhoof’s Daulton Swanson tied the affair with a shot from the slot that cleanly beat Perrie above his blocker hand.
From that point on, it was last shot wins. Gurlivleen Sekhon blasted a clapper through traffic and through Loewen’s five-hole with 12 minutes to go. That made it 6-5.
But three straight goals for the Bears in the last 10 minutes of the game sealed game one for Vanderhoof. Swanson completed his hat trick, tying the game at six when he banged in a loose puck out of mid-air when the Wolves’ defensive coverage broke down and they found themselves running around in their own zone.
Kolby Page then dangled around the Rupert defence and made a tape-to-tape pass to Silver for the 7-6 lead that chased Perrie from the net. Cole Lindsay took over, but gave up one more goal before all was said and done, to Page in the dying seconds for the 8-6 Rupert loss.
Along with Swanson’s hatty, Silver also completed the trick as the two combined for six of Vanderhoof’s eight goals on the day. Page had the other two.
To go with Weir’s deuce and Atchison’s and Archer’s singles, Jared Carter rounded out the scoring for Rupert.
“We had fire, we were just going,” said Weir of the team early on.
“Me and Cole [Atchison], we had a few good shifts but we didn’t really finish. We couldn’t bury them all … They try hard – they’re a good team. [We need to] work harder, play defence. That’s all.”
The team lost 6-3 in the final game on Sunday morning to vault Vanderhoof into the next round.
The Bears will now face the Terrace Kermodes, who defeated the Kitimat Winterhawks 10-1 and 10-7 in round one.